KZN MPLs shambolic trips

2012-10-18 00:00

IT was supposed to have been a study tour to Jamaica, but for nine KwaZulu-Natal MPLs it started off as a junket from hell.

Last month, members of the legislature’s sports committee found themselves on the wrong side of the law during a stop-over in Miami, because they did not have the necessary transit visas to enter and exit the United States.

They were detained for five hours at the airport before U.S. authorities finally allowed them a night’s respite at a local hotel. They then continued their journey to the Jamaican capital, Kingston.

With Olympic champions like Usain Bolt, the sport committee wanted to see for itself why Jamaicans were doing so well in athletics.

A member of the committee, IFP MPL Henry Combrinck, described the initial fiasco to the Standing Committee on Public Accounts, where the issue of foreign travel was discussed.

He painted a picture of the MPLs being “jailed” and then effectively being allowed out of the airport as “parolees” — an ordeal and unpleasant experience for all.

Although the hearing related to the auditor-general’s report on the legislature, it was an opportunity for MPLs to complain about shambolic overseas study tours undertaken in the past.

Many of the trips were marked by poor planning and were seemingly without purpose, they said.

Combrinck said that while British Airways was fined for not checking that the MPLs had the necessary visas, “we are still looking at finding where the mistake was made on this side”.

ANC MPL Belinda Scott, the finance committee chairperson, said overseas study tours were for parliamentarians to “go there and learn”.

If such poor planning continued, the legislature would become a laughing stock, she added.

Last week, a trip to India by members of the education committee was called off at the last minute, at a cost of over R350 000 in cancellation fees, Scott said.

And it was not the first time that this had happened.

Scott said she knew of overseas study tours where MPLs only received their itinerary on arrival.

“I went on one to Australia. We arrived there with no itinerary and found ourselves visiting NGOs growing mangoes and avos. It was with disbelief that I sat through those meetings,” she said.

IFP MPL Roman Liptak, who was also scheduled to go on the Indian trip, told The Witness he had packed his bags on Friday evening, ready to catch his flight the following day.

He had gone to bed when he received an SMS at 11 pm, notifying him that the trip was cancelled.

MPLs were told that the Department of International Relations and Co-operation (Dirco) had asked for the trip to be put on hold, as many official delegations were in India at the time, and the SA embassy could not host everyone at once.

The MPLs are now waiting to see whether the second leg of their trip, to the Czech Republic, comes off.

The IFP, meanwhile, has placed a moratorium on its MPLs participating in study tours, until arrangements can be handled properly.

Scott said a very good policy existed on overseas travel and that motivations for such trips had to go through the legislature’s chairpersons committee.

She had not seen any from other committees of late. She and Scopa chairperson KK Nkosi recently prepared a 25-page motivation for a trip to New York. “If we can do it why can’t others? In our submission … we gave a detailed motivation of why we wanted to go there. The purpose was to look at how municipal finances were managed.

“We identified who we wanted to see and gave Dirco their names and contact details.”

However, it appeared that other committees just gave Dirco the name of the country they wanted to tour “and the department in turn just finds some obscure NGOs that they can visit”.

Her criticism was not aimed at officials, but MPLs themselves for not doing “a better job”, she said.

Legislature secretary Nerusha Naidoo said the problem with study tours was that the legislature was not the sole entity involved in the planning.

All trips had to go through Dirco and this created its own challenges, she said.

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